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AVERROES ON THE METAPHYSICS OF 
ARISTOTLE. 

AVERROES lived from 1126 to 1198. He was thus a con- 
temporary of Maimonides (1 135-1204), and of Abelard 
(1 079-1 142). He lived in Mohammedan Spain, and was the 
last of the Arabian philosophers in that country. The governing 
dynasty of the Almohades was not in favor of philosophical 
studies, as leading to heresy and unbelief, and under this regime 
a taboo was put on science and philosophy, their advocates and 
students were proscribed and persecuted, and works dealing with 
the forbidden subjects were confiscated and burned. As a result, 
interest in the study, once so great as to influence the rest of 
Europe and stimulate it to imitation and emulation, rapidly de- 
clined. As a second result, the works of the Arabian philoso- 
phers in the original Arabic are exceedingly rare, and a large part 
of them lost, probably forever. Fortunately, translations were 
made of them in Latin and Hebrew in the twelfth and thirteenth 
centuries, and to these, especially the Hebrew, we are indebted 
for the preservation of many works of the Arabian philosophers, 
of which the originals are lost. This is especially true of Aver- 
roes ; for he became, for reasons not quite certain, the favorite of 
the Jews in Spain, Provence, and Italy, to the exclusion of Aris- 
totle himself, of whom he was considered the commentator par 
excellence ; and some of his works are extant in the Arabic lan- 
guage, transcribed in Hebrew characters for the use of the Arabic 
speaking Jews in Mohammedan countries. To the accident of 
their transliteration they owe their escape from the Mohammedan 
inquisitor. 

Besides works on medicine, jurisprudence, and astronomy, and 
a treatment of some philosophical themes, Averroes is known 
especially as a commentator of Aristotle, and in this department 
his fame rests especially on his so-called "great" commentaries, 
which he was the first to compose, and which have won for him 
a mention in Dante's Inferno. 

416 



AVERROES AND ARISTOTLE. 4*7 

As is well known, Averroes wrote commentaries to all the 
works of Aristotle, and to some as many as three different kinds, 
— "great," "middle," and "brief." The "great" commentary- 
contains the text of Aristotle in full, and a detailed discussion of 
the meaning. The " middle " commentary contains only the first 
few words of the text of each paragraph, followed by a paraphrase 
of the content of Aristotle's thought, closely following the order 
and method of the original. In the " brief" commentary or resume, 
or compendium, Averroes abandons the order of the original, 
gives an exposition of the subject of the treatise in his own words 
and by his own method, elucidates the problems under discussion 
from the Aristotelian treatises bearing on the matter in hand, and 
settles his account with his Arabian predecessors in the same field, 
such as Alfarabi and Avicenna, particularly the latter. The short 
commentary is thus a kind of independent work on the same sub- 
ject as the Aristotelian treatise of the same name. 

As was said before, the works of Averroes in the original 
Arabic which are extant are very rare, and these form only a 
small fraction of what he wrote. When Renan wrote his masterly 
monograph " Averroes et I'Averroisme," which is still the only com- 
plete work on the subject, though there is now new material for 
elaborating and revising at least one section of that book, all that 
was known to be extant in the original of the Aristotelian treatises 
of Averroes were one manuscript in Florence, containing the 
"middle" commentary on the Organon, the Rhetoric, and the 
Poetics, and a second manuscript in the Escurial in Madrid con- 
taining the commentary on the Psychology. Besides these he 
knew of Arabic manuscripts in Hebrew characters of the com- 
pendium of the Organon, the " middle " commentary of the 
treatise On Generation and Corruption, on the Meteorologies, the 
Psychology, and the compendium of the Parva Naturalia. These 
were in Paris in the national library, and the Bodleian in Oxford 
contained besides in the same characters the commentaries on the 
De Ccelo, the Generation and Corruption, and the Meteorologies. 

Since then a few other manuscripts have turned up, two in Ley- 
den, one containing the " middle " commentary on the Organon, 
Rhetoric, and Poetics, and the other his " great " commentary on 



41 8 THE PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW. [Vol. XVIII. 

the Metaphysics. In Vol. XVIII of the Archiv fur Geschichte 
der Philosophic, 1904-05, Derenbourg described another manu- 
script of the Escurial library in Madrid containing commentaries on 
some of the smaller physical treatises of Aristotle, and in Vol. XX 
(1906—07) of the same periodical, Horten, of Bonn, the trans- 
lator of Avicenna into German, called attention to the publication 
in Cairo two or three years ago of the " middle " commentary on 
the Metaphysics, under the editorship of Mustafa Al-Qabbani, 
without any indication of the manuscript source of the edition. An 
examination of the work proved to the present writer that it was 
not the " middle " commentary, but the compendium, and a cor- 
respondence elicited from the editor, Al Qabbani, the information 
that the manuscript from which the edition was taken is in the 
Khedivial library in Cairo, and contains other works of the same 
author, and Professor Moritz, the director of the Khedivial library, 
dates the manuscript about 700 A. H. (= 1322). 

This little work, covering 85 closely printed large octavo 
pages of small type of the Arabic edition, is one of the most im- 
portant of Averroes's works, giving us as it does the commen- 
tator's views on what he regards as the crowning point of phi- 
losophy, the study of the separate intelligences, and of God. 
Renan speaks of the importance of the treatise, and Munk gives 
a brief statement of its contents, based upon the Latin translation, 
or perhaps the Hebrew. 

If any excuse is needed for presenting this subject to this asso- 
ciation 1 now, I may say in the first place that no account of any 
extent was given of it before, and that none of the writers on 
Averroes, including the best known, Renan, Munk, and Stein- 
schneider, saw the original Arabic, which became known only 
about two years ago. It is unfortunate, however, that the Cairo 
edition is not a good one, teeming with what are either mis- 
prints or errors of the manuscript. The result is that while it helps 
us decidedly to correct the Hebrew and Latin translations, and to 
separate the numerous interpolations from the genuine text of 
Averroes in these translations, we can by no means as yet dis- 
pense with the latter, as, owing to the defective edition or manu- 
1 This paper was prepared for the American Philosophical Association. 



No. 4.] AVERROES AND ARISTOTLE. 419 

script of the original, they help us in many cases to correct the 
Arabic. Of the two translations the one that can least be dis- 
pensed with is the Hebrew, and for the following reasons : 

The Latin translation of Jacob Mantinus was made from the 
Hebrew in the sixteenth century, and published in the Venice 
Latin editions of Aristotle with the commentaries of Averroes. If 
therefore we are sure of the Hebrew text we do not need the 
Latin. The relation is not quite the same as between the Hebrew 
and the Arabic. There is only one Arabic manuscript extant, 
and, if we may judge from the Cairo edition, not an unusually 
good one. It dates from the fourteenth century, whereas the 
Hebrew translation was made by Moses Ibn Tibbon in 1258, 
about sixty years after the death of Averroes. It is therefore 
based upon an earlier manuscript than the one extant, and as 
there are ten manuscripts extant of the Hebrew translation, it is 
of no mean assistance to us in arriving at Averroes's correct text. 

Another consideration should not escape us in considering the 
relative value of a Hebrew and a Latin translation of an Arabic 
original, apart from the dependence of one upon the other, as in 
this special case. Arabic, being a Semitic tongue, can be so well 
rendered literally into Hebrew, — and through many years of 
translation from the former into the latter has been so rendered, 
constituting a Hebrew philosophical style closely modelled after 
the Arabic, — that one who is familiar with the two languages, and 
with the subject, has no difficulty in reconstituting the Arabic 
text from the Hebrew translation. That such a relation does not 
hold between the Arabic and the Latin needs not my saying. 

I have dwelt at length on this matter, because it is the fashion 
in some quarters to belittle the Hebrew translations as worth- 
less, and editors of Arabic philosophical texts are in the habit of 
ignoring them, when they might be of great value. This applies 
to men like J. Muller, Schmolders, Mehren, and others. Mehren 
speaks of them as " de valeur suspecte," and Steinschneider 
wonders whether the phrase is a cover for his inability to use 
them. This is, I think, the secret in most cases. Sachau, the 
Orientalist of the University of Berlin, also thinks, " man kann 
mit ihnen gar nicht anfangen." Fausto Lasinio, on the other hand, 



420 THE PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW. [Vol. XVIII. 

in his publication of excerpts from Averroes's logic, makes use also 
of the Hebrew translations ; and Munk and Steinschneider, who 
are really able to judge in this matter, are both of the opinion 
that the Hebrew translations are of great value, and that a 
knowledge of mediaeval Hebrew is more important in the study 
of Arabian philosophy than a knowledge of Arabic itself. 

The present study is based upon the Arabic text of the Cairo 
edition above mentioned, upon a copy of the Hebrew translation 
made by the present writer from seven manuscripts, and upon the 
Latin translation as found in the Venice edition of Aristotle and 
Averroes in Latin, 1573. 

To judge from the Arabic text there is a number of interpola- 
tions in the Hebrew translation, and the Latin always agrees with 
the Hebrew. But as there is here and there an omission in the 
Arabic, one is not quite sure that some of the apparent interpola- 
tions in the translations are not rather omissions in the Arabic. 

Averroes begins his treatise by dividing the sciences and arts 
into three classes : (1) Theoretical, (2) practical, and (3) auxiliary 
or logical. The aim of the theoretical is knowledge alone. In 
the practical, knowledge is for the sake of action. The logical is 
auxiliary to the other two. 

The theoretical sciences are divided into two classes : Uni- 
versal and Particular. The Universal considers the existent ab- 
solutely and its essential attributes (pofjfieflrpcdTa xad' abvo). It 
embraces (1) Dialectic, (2) Sophistic, and (3) Metaphysic. The 
particular investigates the existent in a particular state. It em- 
braces (1) Physics, which deals with changeable existence, and 
(2) Mathematics, which deals with quantity abstracted from matter. 

The three principal sciences, physics, mathematics and meta- 
physics, correspond to the three kinds of existences : (1) Exist- 
ence in matter (physics) ; (2) things existing in matter, but treated 
apart from the latter (mathematics) ; (3) consists of two parts, 
(a) principles existing absolutely not in matter (separate intelli- 
gences, spirits of the spheres), and (&) Universals common to sen- 
sibles and intelligibles, such as unity, plurality, actual, potential, 
etc. The last two constitute the subject of metaphysics. 

Of the universals he says in another place that as universals 



No. 4-] AVERROES AND ARISTOTLE. 42 1 

they have no extra-mental existence. They are not figments of 
the brain ; they are not mere concepts ; they do exist objectively 
in the concrete, but not as universals. The attribute of univer- 
sality they do not acquire until they are apprehended by the 
reason and the reason endows them with it. As objectively ex- 
isting in the concrete they have a creative or productive power, — 
man produces man, but not as universals. The mistake of the 
Platonists, according to Averroes, is that they make the univer- 
sals efficient causes. 

Of the four causes, metaphysics deals especially with the formal 
and final, and with the efficient also in a sense, i. e., not as pre- 
ceding its effect in time, the sense in which it is used in physics. 
He has in mind here God as the combination of the three causes 
mentioned, formal, final, and efficient, but not preceding the uni- 
verse in time, since motion is eternal. In physics the material 
and moving causes alone are considered. 

Averroes, it will be seen, divides the efficient cause into two 
kinds, — the movens and the agens. The former belongs to 
physics, the second to metaphysics. The first produces motion 
only, in its effect, the second gives it form in virtue of which 
motion takes place. 

Metaphysics builds upon foundations laid in physics and mathe- 
matics. From the former it accepts the idea of an immaterial 
mover and shows in what way it moves. From mathematical 
astronomy it accepts the number of movers, i. e., the number of 
motions in the heavenly spheres, since each motion has a mover. 

Metaphysics is thus divided into three parts. Part one deals 
with sensibles qua existents, and all their genera, i. e., the ten 
categories, and their aufifteftyxoTa xaffabvo. Part two considers 
the principles of obaia, i. e., the separate intelligences, determines 
the character of their existence, and relates them to their first 
principle, who is God. It determines his attributes and actions, 
the relations of other existences to him, and proves that he is the 
ultimate perfection, first form and first agent. Part three inves- 
tigates the subjects of the special sciences and refutes the errors 
of former thinkers. By special sciences he means logic, physics, 
and mathematics. 



422 THE PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW. [Vol. XVIII. 

Metaphysics occupies itself with this matter because the special 
sciences do not verify their own principles. This is the province 
of a universal science. Dialectics cannot do it, though it too is 
a universal science, because it employs acknowledged but not 
necessarily true propositions in its proofs. These may lead to 
erroneous conclusions. Metaphysics alone uses true premises. 
The third part, however, is not as essential to the science of meta- 
physics as the first two. (It will appear from this that Averroes 
does not agree with Herbert Spencer.) 

These three parts of metaphysics Averroes divides into five 
chapters, devoting the first three chapters to the first part of the 
subject, the sensible qua existent, the fourth chapter to the sec- 
ond part, viz., the separate intelligences and God. The fifth 
chapter which was to have dealt with the third division of the 
science, viz., the subjects of the special sciences, he seems never to 
have written, as it is not found either in the Arabic or in the 
translations. It is a pity that he did not write it, for under the 
head of ' refutation of errors of former thinkers ' he would have 
given us important historical material concerning the philosoph- 
ical and theological sects of his day. On several occasions in 
this treatise he refers to the views of the Mutakallimun, a school 
of philosophical theologians of those days, and dismisses them with 
a brief statement, deferring a more complete discussion of their 
tenets to the fifth chapter, which he seems not to have written. 

The purpose and value of metaphysics is the same as that of 
the other theoretical sciences, viz., the perfection of the rational 
soul. Metaphysics is more important in this respect because it 
is the perfection of the other sciences, leading as it does to a 
knowledge of existing things through their ultimate causes, and 
verifying the principles of the other sciences. 

In the order of teaching, metaphysics comes after physics, 
since it makes use of certain principles laid down there, hence 
called metaphysics. In essence, however, it comes before 
physics, hence its other name, first philosophy. 

The proofs in this science are of the kind called " signs " or 
" indications " (oypzia of Aristotle), i. e., where we proceed from 
what is better known to us to what is better known per se, or, 



No. 4.] AVERROES AND ARISTOTLE. 423 

which is the same thing, from a consequent to its antecedent. 
The definition of this kind of proof, known as dalala in Arabic, 
is given by Averroes in his compendium of logic as that in 
which the middle term is not the cause of the conclusion, but 
the cause of our inferring it, as for example when we prove that 
the moon is spherical from the crescent shape of its light. The 
crescent-shaped light is not the cause of its sphericity, but the con- 
sequence. It is, however, the cause of our knowing that the 
moon is spherical. It is really a kind of induction, as we should 
call it. 

The rest of the first chapter is devoted to definitions of terms 
used in the science, closely modeled after the fifth book of Aris- 
totle's Metaphysics. 

The second chapter investigates the ten categories, the sense 
in which the term ' existent ' is applied to all of them, neither 
synonymously nor homonymously, but per prius et posterius, or 
as Aristotle calls it, npbt; sv, i. e., by virtue of their greater or 
lesser participation in obo'ta, or reality. 

The nine categories of accident are all dependent upon the first. 
It is independent of them. The definition is found first in ouaia. 
In the other categories, if it exists at all, it is secondary. 

The essences or universal concepts of things are identical with 
the things themselves, else knowledge would be impossible. The 
Platonists, who place the concepts outside of the concrete, either 
make knowledge impossible, or they require another set of con- 
cepts to understand the first, and so on ad infinitum. 

Neither the form nor the matter is generated or destroyed. 
Hence it follows that the definition is neither generated nor 
destroyed. 

The universals as universals exist in the mind only. The uni- 
versal as universals are not the essences of things. Sensible 
things are composite. This is proved by the fact that we ask the 
question, Why ? This cannot be asked of the simple. We can only 
ask, Whyis A ? Why is B ? The answer to the question, ' why,' is 
any one of the four causes. Though composite, the concrete things 
do not contain the elements of which they are made in actu, or 
they would be nothing else but the elements, which is not true- 



424 THE PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW. [Vol. XVIII. 

There is in the compound a something outside of the elements 
which makes it what it is, and that is the Form. 

In the definition, the genus corresponds to the matter, the dif- 
ference to the form. 

Matter is that which is in potentia. Form is actuality. Geo- 
metrical figures, too, have a kind of matter, and hence have a 
definition. 

Things have a two-fold existence, — sensible and intelligible. 
Intelligible existence is sensible existence as known. 

If a definition has parts, the compound alone has a definition. 
Matter, form, and simple things in general have no definition. 
Multiplicity is due to matter, unity to form. Though a composite 
of matter and form, and possessed of a definition containing parts, 
the concrete is a unit, because the combination of matter and 
form means the realization of the potential. 

Chapter III deals with the aufiftePyxora xaff abro of the ten 
categories, such as actual and potential, the one and the many, 
and the " Contraries," and the finiteness of the four causes, and 
their relations to one another. Time will not allow me to enter 
into details, and I must proceed to a very brief sketch of 
the fourth chapter. 

All that preceded has led up to this last chapter, in which Aver- 
roes proves from the eternity of motion the existence of eternal 
immaterial movers existing actually, and a single principle, which 
is God, existing as the cause of the latter and of the universe. 

His proofs are based upon the twelfth book of Aristotle's Met- 
aphysics, except that he develops in detail what Aristotle has left 
in broad outline. I shall therefore assume Aristotle's scheme as 
known and say a few words about that which is peculiar to 
Averroes. 

In deducing the number of motions and of movers of the 
celestial sphere (55), Aristotle prefaced his discussion by dis- 
claiming any dogmatism in the matter, saying that the subject is 
one of probability, not of certainty, and that he was willing to 
adopt the conclusions of the astronomers of his day, modifying 
them as he saw fit, and leaving an open door for later revision 
consequent upon better knowledge. He thus adopts Callippus's 



No. 4-] AVERROES AND ARISTOTLE. 425 

correction of Eudoxus as to the number of the spheres, which he 
further revises by the addition of the counteracting spheres. 

Averroes, who was also somewhat of an astronomer, takes this 
hint from Aristotle, ignores the schemes of Eudoxus, Callippus, 
and Aristotle himself, and adopts provisionally again, the system 
of Ptolemy as the best that was known at the time, saying that 
the whole matter was still uncertain, owing to the difficulty of the 
subject and the imperfection of the instruments. He thus adopts 
the view that there are 38 motions, 5 each in the upper three 
planets, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, 5 in the moon, 8 in Mercury, 
7 in Venus, and one in the sun, on the hypothesis of an eccentric 
and not of an epicycle, for that would make two. This is the 
number (38) if we suppose that the mover responsible for the 
diurnal motion is the same for all. If a different one is required 
for each of the 7 planets, there will be 45 movers, or separate 
intelligences, in all. 

It is interesting to note here a suggestion of Averroes, that it is 
possible that instead of Saturn receiving its motion from the 
sphere of the fixed stars and the others from Saturn in the tradi- 
tional order, the sun comes next to the fixed stars, then Saturn 
and the rest in order. This idea commends itself to him from 
the observation of the dependence of the other planets upon the 
motions of the sun in speed and proximity. Would it be too 
much to call this an adumbration of the heliocentric theory ? It 
would seem to have been original with Averroes, as he does not 
mention any authority for the statement. 

Aristotle does not discuss in detail the functions and characters 
of the movers of the spheres, or their relations to each other and 
to the primum movens, or God. Of the latter he says that he is 
pure reason contemplating himself eternally, and that the heavenly 
bodies move eternally, not because he moves them directly, but 
because they are prompted by a love and a desire for God. 

Averroes supplies the deficiency. 

The movers of the spheres are pure intellects, the upper being 
the cause of the lower. The heavenly bodies are endowed with 
life and reason, and their motions are a result of conception and 
desire. They conceive the good, which is their perfection, and 



426 THE PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW. [Vol. XVIII. 

desire to become like unto it. Inasmuch as motion is better than 
rest, since motion is life, they are constantly in motion. The 
movers not only move the heavenly bodies, but they give them 
their forms in virtue of which they are what they are, and hence 
they are thus agentes, in a sense. The forms of the heavenly 
bodies are what they conceive of the movers above them. 

As to the movers, or principles, they are pure intellect and their 
function is knowing, conceiving. They are immaterial and im- 
movable. Judging from our own intellect, which knows itself, 
we infer that each of the separate intelligences knows itself. To 
know itself, it must know that upon which it depends, hence it 
must know its cause, which is its perfection, i. ^.,the mover next 
above it, though not in the same way in which the latter knows 
itself, or they would be identical. The cause, however, does not 
know its effect, which is inferior to it, hence the last mover, or 
God, having no cause higher than himself and not knowing the 
lower movers, knows himself only. 

If Averroes stopped here he would be denying all knowledge in 
God of things below, and hence all Providence. He is not ready 
to do either. It is absurd, he says, that anything should emanate 
from a knower qua knower without the latter knowing it, and 
an observation of nature is all that is needed to recognize Provi- 
dence. He therefore compromises on his previous deductions 
and argues again from the human mind to prove that the upper 
intelligences do have a knowledge of the lower. Since our intel- 
lect, he says, is nothing more than a conception of the order and 
method of this world and its parts in reference to its causes, 
proximate and remote, the essence of the intellect producing ours 
(one of the movers of the lunar sphere) cannot be different, except 
that it comprehends the same thing in a superior manner. The 
same holds true of the intelligence next above this, and so on to 
the first intelligence, or God. It follows then that God knows 
the same things as we know, but in a superior manner. These 
two deductions are both true. God's knowledge of himself is 
identical with his knowledge of the Universe. But his knowledge 
is not our knowledge. 

Upon this compromise Averroes bases his theodicy. God is 



No. 4-] AVERROES AND ARISTOTLE. A^7 

not responsible for evil, for evil is a concomitant of matter, and 
that God does not know. Not to know some things is better than 
to know them, and argues no defect or imperfection, rather the 
contrary. To make God know the particular and save him from 
responsibility for evil by saying that good and evil are only in 
relation to us, that to God they do not exist, is a dangerous 
doctrine. 

It would seem as if all great men who do epoch-making work 
require as a stimulus, in addition to the cause of truth, an 
embodiment of a deviation from it in the shape of a personal 
opponent against whom they may sharpen their wit, thus rising 
to greater heights than the smaller men about them. Aristotle 
had his Plato, Abelard his William of Champeaux, Kant his 
Wolff, and Averroes his Avicenna. He finds no less than eight 
occasions in this little book to signify his disagreement with the 
latter, and in one instance declares that Avicenna can never be 
relied upon when he goes a-hunting after original views. 

The Mutakallimun, or Arabian Scholastics, were another bug- 
bear to his rigid Aristotelianism, and he does not treat them with 
great gentleness. " They do not carry on their discussion," he 
says, " by means of syllogisms composed of two premises, nor 
do they make use of essential predicates." This condemnation 
of their unphilosophical, because unlogical, method is only 
equalled by another in which he says of them : " they do not hold 
these views (such as the denial of causation and the like) because 
they are led to them by investigation, but in order to verify by 
their means opinions about which their minds are made up in ad- 
vance, and refute principles opposed to them." Maimonides 
speaks of them almost in the same words. We should have had 
more information about their system if Averroes had written the 
fifth chapter which he promises on the subjects of the special 
sciences. 

Though the reputation of Averroes for orthodoxy did not rank 
high, still he takes the opportunity to quote the Koran in a few 
instances in confirmation of his philosophical views, such as the 
unity of God, his knowledge of things in the world, and the im- 
portance of knowing the human mind before studying to under- 
stand the nature of God. 



428 THE PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW. 

Many and varied have been the opinions regarding Averroes as 
a commentator and exponent of Aristotle. He was once glorified 
by Jews and Christians alike as the commentator far excellence. 
He was as much depreciated later in the time of the Renaissance, 
and hated by a man like Petrarch with almost a passionate hatred. 
Then he was simply ignored and forgotten. In Solomon Munk 
he has found a defender who thinks we may still consult him with 
profit at the present day. It will be near the truth, I think, if 
we recognize that for his day he was the best exponent of Aris- 
totle, better than any of his predecessors ; that considering he was 
twice removed from the original text, the Syriac translations 
having stood between the Greek and the Arabic, he was as effi- 
cient and penetrating a commentator as can be imagined ; and 
while there is no need of consulting Averroes now when we have 
Aristotle's text and the Greek commentators, and Bonitz's index 
and the other works of Bonitz, and Trendelenburg, and Waitz, 
and Zeller, and others, we may study him as one of the sources 
of mediaeval philosophy, who will help us to understand men like 
Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, William Occam among the 
scholastics, and Gersonides, Falaquera, and Caspi among the 
Jewish philosophers of the later middle age. 

Isaac Husik. 
University of Pennsylvania.